Each aspiring author’s choice: To publish or self-publish?

To publish or self-publish? Panic

Lately I’ve thinking a lot about my long-held dream of getting a literary agent and seeing my book traditionally published. The truth is, as I continue to query my third manuscript (fourth if you count that one I partially wrote in high school), I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated. The process is ridden with rejections.

I know I’m a good writer. In the span of about five years, I gained traction as a freelance journalist, earning the praise and respect of a number of high-profile folks, and ultimately transitioned full-time into a much different (but also heavily writing-focused) role with a single company, where I’ve gone from bottom-rung to the head of a department and member of an executive team. In what I do, I’m successful — and supremely grateful. I know, with confidence, how much my skills have grown and how much more potential I have to fulfill. I’m damn proud of myself.

But there’s still a part of myself that craves a different outlet. An ambition that needs to be satisfied. And that’s becoming an author. Not a writer who’s finished and revised several manuscripts, mind you, but a Published Author (insert sparkles here).

fancy author gif

And as years spent on one manuscript give way to years on another, I’m beginning to question what I really want: to see my name on a book on a shelf in a store or library, or to have readers — dozens or even hundreds or thousands of them?

I think it’s a little of both. I want to feel like I’ve “earned” my keep by getting an agent, getting a publishing deal, and seeing my books for sale. But I also know that if I did all that (or even part of that) and my book still tanked and no one read it … it wouldn’t mean all that much to me.

I want my book to be read, too.

Getting published is hard. The odds exist (and are real) and yet don’t exist at the same time: Honing your craft increases your chance of success, and each novel is a learning experience … just one that takes one or two years to complete each time. It’s a long-ass journey. Ava Jae, a young adult author I admire, wrote 10 books before she got an agent. Even writers who’ve made it into The New York Times can’t get book deals.

And while I’m not sure I want to self-publish — there are a number of drawbacks to that route, including hurting your chances of getting traditionally published in the future and the plain fact that the only person deciding whether your book is ready is you, a very biased opinion holder — I’m not sure I want to wallow in silence forever, either. I don’t want to shelve manuscript after manuscript, all for a goal I may never reach.

So what does my future hold? Well, more querying and more novel writing, undoubtedly. But I’m also toying with the idea of letting some of my old, failed manuscripts free on a community like Wattpad. Those stories are languishing alone on my computer; they’re not going anywhere. If I release them anonymously, for free, with no sales numbers to haunt me — whether they get two views or two thousand — what’s the harm?

At the end of the day, it’s my choice. I have to decide what’s important to me.

5 thoughts on “Each aspiring author’s choice: To publish or self-publish?”

  1. this blog post hit me hard, I’m stuck in the same struggle. I want to live my dream and see my book on bookstore shelves and have everyone know my name but query rejections are some of the hardest things to read. I wanted to give up — feeling as if I wasn’t good enough bc one or two (or ten) literary agents said no. It’s such a slap in the face. I wish you the greatest of luck in getting published no matter which outlet you choose (and I’m only slightly jealous of your journalist job, fingers crossed that’s me one day).


  2. I feel you here. We’re basically told that, unless we’re already famous, we can’t possibly sell a book. I mean, it all comes down to numbers, right? And I understand this concept, but how to overcome it when I’m not yet a famous “somebody” (and not sure if that’s even something I want!). I just keep going back to the beginning. I have to write a good story. Without that, there’s nothing to accept (or reject) anyway! Happy writing!


    1. Yes! Our stories are the only thing we can control really; we can’t control whether an agent or publisher chooses us, but we can hone our craft to try to increase our odds.

      I do believe writers can land an agent without being famous, but it does suck knowing that with the right platform, it can make getting published a lot easier (because you’re right, it does come back to numbers). That said, I do think there are plenty of agents willing to take a chance of unknowns — who are just looking for good stories and promising new authors. It takes time, but if we don’t persist and keep trying? Well then we definitely won’t “make it.” 🙂 As you said, there has to be something to accept or reject! We can get a lot of no’s, but all it takes is one yes.


      1. I’m editing my first novel. Been working on and off on this manuscript for 2 1/2 years. Thought I’d finally gotten it “close” to a decent story when I realized this morning that the hero and heroine (it’s a romance) don’t share enough “screen time” together. I suspect substantial revision (again) will be needed, and at the moment I think I have to take a break for a bit. I do dream of having my book published as paperback – to imagine something I created is out there for others to read and enjoy. I know it’s subjective and totally my own perspective, but even as it is now, my story seems more compelling than some that get published and which I have read (when, at the end of the book, I say, “Meh.”). I suspect established authors get more leeway in the quality of their writing and that first timers have a much higher bar to clear to interest an editor. Self publishing may be the way to get it out there for me, but without a trad. publisher behind the book, who’s gonna see it to read it? I don’t need to be famous or make a lot of money, but if I spend hundreds of hours writing and editing and no one ever reads it, what’s the point? Tough business, this writing stuff.



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